Mars has greatly intrigued scientists and the general public for many years because, of all the planets, its environment is most like Earth's. Many scientists believe that Mars once had running water, although surface water is gone today. The planet is very cold with a very thin atmosphere consisting mainly of CO2. Mariner 4, 6, and 7 explored the planet in flybys in the 1960s and by the orbiting Mariner 9 in 1971. NASA then mounted the ambitious Viking mission, which launched two orbiters and two landers to the planet in 1975. The landers found ambiguous evidence of life. Mars Pathfinder landed on the planet on July 4, 1997, delivering a mobile robot rover that demonstrated exploration of the local surface environment. Mars Global Surveyor is creating a highest-resolution map of the planet's surface. These prior and current missions to Mars have paved the way for a complex Mars Sample Return mission planned for 2003 and 2005. Returning surface samples from Mars will necessitate retrieval of material from Mars orbit. Sample mass and orbit are restricted to the launch capability of the Mars Ascent Vehicle. A small sample canister having a mass less than 4 kg and diameter of less than 16 cm will spend from three to seven years in a 600 km orbit waiting for retrieval by a second spacecraft consisting of an orbiter equipped with a sample canister retrieval system, and a Earth Entry Vehicle. To allow rapid detection of the on-orbit canister, rendezvous, and collection of the samples, the canister will have a tracking beacon powered by a surface mounted solar array. The canister must communicate using RF transmission with the recovery vehicle that will be coming in 2006 or 2009 to retrieve the canister. This paper considers the aspect and conclusion that went into the design of the power system that achieves the maximum power with the minimum risk. The power output for the spherical orbiting canister was modeled and plotted in various views of the orbit by the Satellite Orbit Analysis Program (SOAP).
Spacecraft Propulsion and Power
16th Space Photovoltaic Research and Technology Conference; 238-241; NASA/CP-2001-210747/REV1